Well done, Portugal

A country makes it illegal for your boss to text you after work. Why this is a good thing.

With the rise of smart devices, employees face a new challenge: The urge to be constantly reachable.

It has been a problem for a long time. However, the issue finally gets the attention it deserves. In the wake of the pandemic, people were forced to work remotely. As a result, companies had to speed up the digitalization of their processes. And it shed a highlight on mental health in the workplace in the already stressful environment created by Covid.

Now, Portugal acted swiftly:

Under the new rules, employers could face penalties for contacting workers outside of office hours. Companies will also have to help pay for expenses incurred by remote working, such as higher electricity and internet bills.

Well done, Portugal!

Photo: Becca Tapert, unsplash.com

The law will certainly help to create a better work-life balance. However, Portugal’s new rules are probably only a cure for symptoms but not for the origin of the problem.

One problem is the lack of leadership responsibility.

I, too, found myself often in a situation where an 8-hour day just wasn’t enough to accomplish everything I needed to do. Maybe because it took longer than expected, sometimes because I wasn’t happy with the result. In a management position, overtime is already accounted for and compensated by more vacation time or higher salary.

Nevertheless, as a leader, I have to be aware that those rules don’t apply to my team. I cannot forward the pressure to my colleagues. In fact, I don’t only have to put boundaries on my communication but also set them for myself.

Avoid being seen as “underperformers”

Of course, we all find ourselves on the receiving end of after-hour messages. The binging and banging of mail or Slack is an issue. They prohibit us from relaxation.

But while it’s tough for leaders to set boundaries, it’s even harder for an employee. They feel obligated to check in even after hours because they want to excel. They want to show that they care, that they go the extra mile. And in any circumstance, they want to avoid being seen as “underperformers”.

Naturally, this is very unhealthy short-term thinking. The impact that the always-on mindset has on mental health will, in the long run, destroy any gain that this behaviour brings along.

The real issue: Culture

Now, the easy way out is to say: It’s all the leadership’s fault. And clearly, they have the leverage to drive change. But the real issue here is, once again, a toxic work culture. It affects the leaders and employees alike.

We should ask ourselves the tough questions: Why do we work till late? Why do we keep sending and reading messages in our supposed free time? Is this behaviour expected in my workplace?

And most importantly: How does this behaviour affect us in our private and work lives?

The reasons might be highly individual (“I want to succeed in my career!”) or structural (“My company is understaffed!”).

We’re designing around the problem

Unfortunately, we rarely ask those essential questions. Instead, we accept tools that design around the problem. And yes, I very much include myself here because I use them regularly. The scheduler of messages on Slack or Gmail. Or Apple’s focus feature. Yes, they’re great. But they merely treat symptoms again.

Cultural change needs a lot of time. And time wasn’t ample when the pandemic hit. Confined to our apartments, the problematic symptoms of an always-on mindset got more and more severe. Next to restrictions in our personal lives, after-hour texting and mail contribute heavily to a stressful environment.

Therefore, there’s a need to regulate the new work reality. Portugal boldly moved forward with its regulations, forcing companies to overthink their culture, behaviours, and processes. It’s a forced approach, yes, but one that might improve the well-being of both employees and management.


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